Texas Passes Bill Targeting Elections in Democratic Bastion

Harris County, the state's most populous county, has become a reliable Democratic stronghold.

The passing of the bill marks the culmination of months of efforts by the Texas Republican Party to counter some of that dominance. They highlighted Election Day issues last November in Harris County as justification for a challenging result in favor of the Democrats and questioned the way the Democratic-led county ran its election.

“It was the stated intent of some in the Legislature to take action against the Harris County election administration,” said Daniel Griffith, senior policy director at Secure Democracy USA, a nonpartisan organization focused on elections and voter access.

Senate Bill 1750 eliminates the position of appointee as election administrator, which was only in place in Harris County since late 2020. If the bill becomes law with the governor's signature, the county must revert to its previous electoral system, where county clerks and county tax collectors split responsibility. Both positions are currently occupied by elected Democrats.

“The Legislature's support for SB 1750 and SB 1933 is because Harris County is not too big to fail, but too big to ignore,” said State Senator Paul Bettencourt, a Houston Republican and sponsor of several election bills. in a statement. “Public confidence in elections in Harris County must be restored.”

Another bill, Senate Bill 1070, removed Texas from the interstate system for cross-checking voter registration information run by the non-profit organization, the Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC. The system has been the target of conservative attacks in several states, in part because it requires states that use it to also conduct voter outreach when new voters move from out of state. The Texas act prohibits the state from entering any cross-check system that requires voter outreach.

Still another bill House Bill 1243increased the penalties for illegal voting from a misdemeanor to a felony.

The measures passed were opposed by Democratic representatives and voting rights groups. But advocates of greater access to the polls are relieved that other, more stringent measures are proposed and passed in the State Senate — including one that would require voters to use assigned polling stations instead of being able to vote anywhere. in that area, and another that would have created a system for the state to order new elections under certain circumstances in Harris County – failed at Texas House.

“It hasn't moved and that must be a good thing,” said Mr. Griffith.

The bill invites new oversight of elections, especially in Harris County, where officials are expected to change their system just months before a crucial election.

Under the new law, future complaints about the electoral function of Democratic-run areas could create the real possibility that the secretary of state, a former Republican state senator, could step in and oversee an election as early as next year, as the area votes for president.

The bills, said Mayor Sylvester Turner of Houston, “created more problems than they needed to solve.”

Top officials in Harris County have vowed to go to court to challenge both actions aimed at the county after the law goes into effect (Sep. 1, if the governor signs off), meaning the county's election battle is far from over.